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Walking On to Gifting: Shop of the Open Heart

by Deborah Frieze on November 23, 2012

It’s 9 AM on Black Friday (for those of you outside the U.S., explanation here), and I’m hiding out in my parents’ home on the North Shore of Boston. My uncle invited me to join him in bringing coffee to nearby Walmart strikers, but I can’t bear the thought of going out there long enough to accept his invitation. When did the conspicuous consumption of our culture become so crushing that some of us choose to cower in our homes?

A few weeks ago, as the holiday season was threatening to cast its glittery shadow, my Walk Out Walk On colleague Aerin Dunford and I had a conversation about how to navigate the transactional culture that dominates the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. We asked our usual question, “What would Walk Outs do?”, which shifted our attention from what’s wrong with this time of year to what’s possible. My learning from witnessing Walk Outs is that they tend to waste very little energy in trying to transform old systems—it’s debilitating and there’s minimal return on the effort. Instead, Walk Outs turn their attention toward the future—designing and experimenting with how the world could be.

So in that spirit, we’ve decided to invite friends and family into an experiment in gifting that represents another way to experience this season. I was first introduced to Dariya Dil Dukkan (Hindi for Shop of the Open Heart) about five years ago by our friends at Shikshantar in India. As I recall, about 40 of us were gathered together in Zimbabwe when Manish Jain invited us each to bring something meaningful—an item we loved or a service we could offer (described on a piece of paper)—and display it on a brightly colored tablecloth at the edge of the room. We had time to go “shopping,”  browsing the display of curiosities—everything from necklaces, artwork and herbs to serenades, massage and cooked meals. We were then invited to choose a gift that touched or inspired us, to find its giver and to learn the story of what made the gift so precious.

I remember choosing a necklace made of bronze beads. It was gifted by a woman who had received the necklace from her grandmother, and it carried with it the ancestral energy of the women healers in her family. “From our hearts to yours,” the giver said to me. “May you be a bearer of healing in your family.”

This is the power of the Shop of the Open Heart—gifts that carry far more value than could ever be bought or sold, gifts from one heart to another, gifts whose stories matter most. Community, as my friend Manish says, is woven from gifts and stories.

This year, I’ll be co-creating a Shop of the Open Heart in my new community in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Aerin will be hosting one in Oaxaca, Mexico. And we invite anyone else who wishes to experiment with walking out of transacting and walking on to gifting to join us.

We’ve posted a Shop of the Open Heart event on Facebook that runs from today through January 4, 2013. Of course, you’re welcome to host your Shop of the Open Heart any time, but this is a good time to kick things off. If you’re not on Facebook, you can find more information at the Walk Out Walk On website. We’ll include information about the event, as well as sample invitations, guidelines for hosts, how to share your learning and more.

We’re also hosting a Tweet Chat (#wowochat #ShopofOpenHeart) on Tuesday, November 27 from 4-6pm ET. We’ll explore such questions as:

  • Given that much of mainstream culture has been co-opted by transacting, how we can restore our relationship to gifting and generosity?
  • What do we already know about the oldest, most enduring economic system: the ‘gift’ economy?
  • What other experiments or ideas related to gifting and gift culture are you aware of? What are people learning from them?

Join us this year in our generosity laboratory and contribute your ideas and dreams for gifting.